Viktor Orbán on the levees: A political victory

This morning I discovered a short news item. In Mórahalom, a town in the County of Csongrád, a certain Ilonka néni died two days before her ninetieth birth. Let’s start with the Hungarian media’s annoying habit of calling every woman over the age of 50 or 60, at least if she is not a famous Budapest celebrity, “néni,” a word hard to translate. “Nagynéni” means “aunt,” but children address every adult female as “néni.” Students can call their female teacher “tanitó néni.”  In the case of an elderly woman, it simply means “granny.”

In any event, Ilonka néni, according to the mayor of Mórahalom, was so eager to receive the birthday card Viktor Orbán sends every ninety-year-old that she allegedly asked the mayor to read the prime minister’s greetings at her funeral. Even though she didn’t quite make it to her birthday, the mayor accommodated. Moreover, the card was buried with her. I think this says a lot about the modern version of hero worship in Hungary. Mind you, this is not new. Many of us still vividly remember the scene when another “néni” kissed Viktor Orbán’s hand. That was a long time ago during his first term as prime minister. At the time one of the members of my political discussion group felt that it would be enough to print thousands and thousands of posters depicting this scene to assure Viktor Orbán’s defeat.

www.napizeje.blog.hu

www.napizeje.blog.hu

The threat of massive flooding in Hungary provided the prime minister with a golden opportunity to demonstrate his managerial competence and personal compassion. Viktor Orbán’s staff must have put up at least a hundred pictures showing the prime minister in every possible pose as he took charge of protecting the nation from Mother Nature’s vengeance.

A natural disaster usually serves the government in power well if the operation is executed smoothly and the final result is satisfactory. Admittedly, Viktor Orbán’s decision to show himself as the man in charge of the operation entailed a level of risk. What if at the end scores of towns get flooded and several people lose their lives? In this case the prime minister’s heavy involvement might backfire.

Since I know nothing about waterways and flooding, I don’t know whether the Hungarian authorities could predict the maximum height of the water once it got to Hungary. We know that in Germany the damage caused by the flood on the Danube was great and scores of people died. In Passau it was only in 1501 that there was such a threat to the city. I heard less about Austria and I read that the city of Bratislava was spared. Therefore it is possible that the experts didn’t expect anything more serious than the floods of past years. If this is true, it wasn’t much of a political risk for Orbán to show himself as the man in charge of the whole operation. Exaggerating the possible trouble might also have served the prime minister’s political ends.

In any case, his admirers, who are numerous, have been writing  comments on Viktor Orbán’s Facebook page that are over the top. As early as June 4 Orbán, accompanied by István Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest, stood on the bank of the Danube which was not yet flooded and intently gazed at the river. This picture inspired the following comments: “The Prime Minister is there on the dike. He is not lazy. At last there is a real leader of the country. Thanks you for the unselfish work performed on behalf of the country.” And “Viktor don’t give in if the flood comes or if you fight against the European Union or the Bolshevik opposition. The Hungarians are with you.”

Practically every picture is entitled “Leading the defense….” There are several pictures showing Orbán intently studying large maps. Those who don’t admire him as much as some of the people who comment on his Facebook page made fun of his presumed understanding of the import of these maps.

Orban and mapThe picture that was copied over and over, and reproduced here, shows Orbán sitting with a huge map in front of him. Orbán isn’t looking at the map; he’s gazing off into the distance. But this didn’t bother one of his admirers, who commented: “This is what a decent Hungarian looks like. Someone who is truly interested in the fate of the country! We have an extraordinary prime minister!”

And he is a good Hungarian in other ways too. It cannot be a coincidence that the staff felt that they have to show the people that Viktor Orbán is one of them. Here is this fancy Ferenc Gyurcsány who cooks all sorts of weird dishes–Italian, Indian, Thai. No, our man eats “kolbász” that he himself helps make in Felcsút. And the comment? “Never mind the luxury minibus. He is frugal.” In addition, he suggests that those who criticize him should be built into the dikes. “At least they would be useful.” What an uplifting Christian idea!

Viktor Orbán leads while the others can hardly keep up with him / Photo Népszabadság

Viktor Orbán leads while the others can hardly keep up with him / Photo Népszabadság

But the most often repeated conversation from the many videos about Orbán’s days along the Danube is the one that tells the story of his trip from Komárom to Szentendre.

György Bakondi, the head of the whole organization in blue overalls, says, “The most important task is to fill the sacks with sand.” He calls it “localized filling.” Viktor Orbán is gazing at a map, looking at danger zones. Orbán then looks at Bakondi, who nods meaningfully. . . Orbán asks Bakondi: “How much is that?” Bakondi replies, “Meaning what? In time?” Orbán pointing toward the Danube: “Until it comes up.” At this point one of the experts who is standing by tries to explain the situation, but Orbán is waiting for an answer from Bakondi: “How much water? In your opinion how high will it come up?” Bakondi: “Where? There? Yes.” … Orbán: “Are we raising it to 85?” Everybody nods. Orbán: “Will the peak be tomorrow? It will come in then, isn’t it so?” Answer: “Friday-Saturday.” Orbán: “We will take over the water level at the border on Thursday.”

Orbán’s presence made no difference from a practical point of view, but in political terms it was a capital idea. I’m sure that his popularity, which has been sagging for at least a year, will soar after the flood. While pictures circulate about a playground where Ferenc Gyurcsány was working on the levees. The pictures show that the whole playground has been flooded since. The dike didn’t hold. That is the difference between an extraordinary prime minister and the opposition losers.

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Bowen
Guest

If you have nothing better to do (like me), there are a huge number of videos on Orban Viktor’s Facebook page of him going around the countryside dealing with the flood, making poor György Bakondi’s life a misery.

Never mind the sheer manpower needed to tackle the flood, what about the filming? The camera crews=, sound team, film editors, associated PR ‘advisors’, (plus make-up and wardrobe?) must have spent a tremendous amount of time on this over the last week or so.

It really is like the Viktor Orban reality TV show (somewhat similar to the old Gyozike show), as we watch him eating, having coffee, watching his iPad, preparing to give press conferences, etc. etc.

Anyway, it’s really telling that all these videos are of him traipsing around the countryside. There’s not one of him in Budapest (e.g. in Bem Ter, or the rakparts). I think the closest he dared to come was Romai furdo.

josef
Guest

anyway, without Orbans managing many ungarians would lost here lives.

An
Guest

I think the only thing that could help here is mockery. A ton of it. Orban who single-handedly saved Hungary from the waters!

tappanch
Guest

“operation entailed a level of risk”
“I don’t know whether the Hungarian authorities could predict the maximum height of the water once it got to Hungary.”

This time it was easy to predict the outcome (my humbleness did so in your blog), because none of the tributaries showed any flooding.

Here is what I was watching:
http://www.hydroinfo.hu/Html/hidelo/hidelo_graf_duna.html

kincs
Guest

That was an excellent post. Thanks.

The notion that Viktor Orbán saved the country for the Great Flood of 2013 will now become part of the Fidesz political mythology – the mythology that says police rather than rioters were the wrongdoers in 2006, that Fidesz saved the economy from collapse in 2010, that multinational companies are behind EU objections to the Basic Law, that Hungarians wanted a new constitution in 2010, etc.
As with those, we’ll never hear the end of this one.

tappanch
Guest

@kincs

I do not think that people are THAT stupid. Orban overdid the acting. My prediction is that the poll numbers will not change significantly – they did not budge after the fumbled blizzard of March either.

Ms KKA
Guest

As I was telling my friend in Budapest yesterday, if I was more cynical (not sure that’s possible), I might believe that Viktor had conjured the flood to use for political purposes.

Ron
Guest

tappanch :
@kincs
I do not think that people are THAT stupid. Orban overdid the acting. My prediction is that the poll numbers will not change significantly – they did not budge after the fumbled blizzard of March either.

According to my neighbor kid’s who went filling sandbags coordination was not one of the strongest points.

Ron
Guest

OT Portfolio.hu mentioned about a merger of PSZAF with the National Bank. Another independent institution bite the dust.

http://www.portfolio.hu/en/economy/doomsday_for_hungarys_banks_at_the_hands_of_matolcsy_nope.26152.html

S2013
Guest

Sad report on Hungary.
With or without Orban, any unity is impossible.
Hungarians must wake up, and realize the sad state of their common civility.

kincs
Guest

@tappancs
I’m not saying there will be a big change in poll numbers. Only that Viktor’s heroic acts in the Great Flood of 2013 will be a feature in the fawning media from now until the next elections, and probably beyond.

Guest
Gyor Calling! Yes Eva. This was always my dilemma. Trying to adduce the truth from a shackled media – which I mentioned earlier. I was almost relieved when the media (via MTI?) said that the dyke at Győrújfalu had ‘failed but we saved it’ because I realised this was news manipulation – in a potentially dangerous situation. “Surely I reasoned, they would not play games if there was a risk that people would perish, would they?” (Don’t answer!). And the ever present Orban made this westerner realise that the first casualty is the truth. You could see in the eyes of people lined up to be ‘presented’ to him that they were nervous (or frightened) when you knew that they should be left to get on with it. If Orban misunderstood a situation – highly likely – it would lock people into a strategy that could not be changed in the event that instant decisiveness was required. I am no royalist but you know when the Queen visits she knows not to interfere – however much she has to be accommodated in troubled times. And at least in the English media the truth seeps through eventually – I believe. And… Read more »
petofi
Guest

Eva S. Balogh :

josef :
anyway, without Orbans managing many ungarians would lost here lives.

I’m so glad you think so!

The original comment shows the extent of Hungarian mindlessness: any intelligent person would’ve noted that in the clip where Orban met with the army engineer, it was HE–Orban the Magnificent–who was doing the talking….when an intelligent, involved, person would’ve listened to what the expert (or, supposed expert) had to tell him. Not Viktor.

petofi
Guest

The Hungarians who complement Orban and think him Great reminds me of Stalin’s statement:
“Can I help it if my people want a God?”

(Instead of developmental funds…the EU should send a mob of urgent psychiatric help for this hapless population!)

Johnny Boy
Guest

I can’t help but sense the vast bitterness in seeing this action and the possible consequences of Orbán gaining popularity (which I don’t really foresee, by the way).
I’m sure you thought the same about Gyurcsány’s similar flood gig series in 2006.

Sammy
Guest

The elections are far away. Orbán is happy to play in this reality show and the right wing media is bolstering his supposed heroism, but but this will have zero influence in 2014. It does not add anything to his character and so many further events will take place until the elections people will forget about it.

Joe Simon
Guest

This is a terrible post. Eva just hates VO, no matter what. There are so many other issues HS could concentrate on. Eva returns again and again to her favourite whipping boy. Sad. Also very sterile. Yes, there is an Ilona néni, in Felvidék, close to 100 years old. She was deprived of her Slovak citizenship for becoming a Hungarian citizen again, the one she was born with.

Member
josef : anyway, without Orbans managing many ungarians would lost here lives. hmmm I think taxpayers should rethink the hiring of minsters, engineers, catastrophe management. Orban can do all the organizing single handedly. (We can only wish he would of been around when the blizzard hit.) I think Orban was right to take away the money from student education, as he never got educated in other then law, and look it him now, saving the whole nation single handedly! “Orban happened to be in the city when the flood waters rushed in and, luckily for many victims of the flood, he had a boat. Without any sleep or rest for 72 hours he crisscrossed flooded areas again and again to rescue the weakest: women, children and the elderly. During the three days of uninterrupted rescue work, Orban saved six hundred people from certain death. On the third day, the Austrian General Bratfeld flung his arms around Orban in a gesture of gratitude and admiration for what he had done. And so did all of Hungary in spirit as news of his heroism spread. The greatest Hungarian poet of the time, Mihály Vörösmarty, gave his deeds lasting fame in his ode… Read more »
Member

Johnny Boy :
I can’t help but sense the vast bitterness in seeing this action and the possible consequences of Orbán gaining popularity (which I don’t really foresee, by the way).
I’m sure you thought the same about Gyurcsány’s similar flood gig series in 2006.

See my reply above.

Member

Joe Simon :
Yes, there is an Ilona néni, in Felvidék, close to 100 years old. She was deprived of her Slovak citizenship for becoming a Hungarian citizen again, the one she was born with.

Poor Ilona neni. Can you expend on your story about what happened because of the consequence loosing his Slovak citizenship? I know that many countries you are not allowed to be a dual citizen, but I was not sure what are the hard core consequences. Is Slovakia still not part of the EU? What happened to the poor lady in Hungary or in Slovakia with her?

Guest

@Joe Simple Simon:

Are you a masochist ?

You don’t have to endure this site – just delete the URL in your browser and don’t come back again!

OT:

The Forint spiked this morning at more than 301 to the € – has anyone any explanations ?

Ferenc József
Guest

some months ago, OV was in Jordan where he advertised Hungarian competence in water management. Competence in water management? With floods almost every year? I was really wondering about this. And now they tried to control the water with bags filled with sand. But they were plastic bags? Plastic bags do not “weld”, they remain what they are, plastic bags with sand piled upon each other. So the water will continue to seep through! Any plain water engineer or anyone with some sound working brain, knows that these bags sshould be made of jute or a special water absorbing nylon. BTW jute bags are cheaper then plastic bags and more over friendly for the environment… Near Bodrog, Tisza and so one one can still observe the plastic bags which were used in the former years!

Johnny Boy
Guest
Ferenc József : some months ago, OV was in Jordan where he advertised Hungarian competence in water management. Competence in water management? With floods almost every year? I was really wondering about this. And now they tried to control the water with bags filled with sand. But they were plastic bags? Plastic bags do not “weld”, they remain what they are, plastic bags with sand piled upon each other. So the water will continue to seep through! Any plain water engineer or anyone with some sound working brain, knows that these bags sshould be made of jute or a special water absorbing nylon. BTW jute bags are cheaper then plastic bags and more over friendly for the environment… Near Bodrog, Tisza and so one one can still observe the plastic bags which were used in the former years! Anyone with some sound working brain (well, not you, obviously) would know that those are not plastic bags but perforated bags that, of course, allow water to penetrate and thus get soaked when in contact with water–and become even more compact and heavy to withstand the flood. Why do you assume that those with such a profession are exactly as lacking in… Read more »
Ferenc József
Guest

Sure ask the people in Vác!

Johnny Boy
Guest

Some1 :
See my reply above.

I saw it but there was no response for me. (Not a problem, anyway.)

Ron
Guest

wolfi :
OT:
The Forint spiked this morning at more than 301 to the € – has anyone any explanations ?

There is no one point explanation, but since the economy of Hungary is not a stable economy, anything in Hungary and abroad may cause strengthening or weakening of the Forint.
Portfolio mentioned a number of reasons for the current weakening and Bloomberg only one reason (constant reducing of the interest rate).
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-11/forint-hits-6-week-low-as-hungarian-yields-jump-budapest-mover.html
http://www.portfolio.hu/deviza_kotveny/deviza/esik_a_forint_mi_a_hattere.185114.html (in Hungarian)

Member

Johnny Boy :

Some1 :
See my reply above.

I saw it but there was no response for me. (Not a problem, anyway.)

but you just did reply. lol Enjoy

Öcsi
Guest
“This is what a decent Hungarian looks like. Someone who is truly interested in the fate of the country! We have an extraordinary prime minister!” The Viktor Orbán admirer who said the above is a fool! Orbán is not just an ‘extraordinary prime minister.’ He is an extraordinary Hungarian. And the nénis l̶i̶c̶k̶i̶n̶g̶ kissing his hand is all the proof I need. But I’m a bit of a fool too! Because, actually, Orbán is much more than an extraordinary Hungarian. In fact he belongs to that little mentioned (and only talked about in hushed voices) elite known as THE INVINCIBLE HUNGARIANS. The membership of this elite group is somewhat obscure and it’s not even certain that Árpád or Attila belong. But for sure, Orbán is a member. To live in the Age of Orbán and to walk on the same streets as this Übermensch humbles us all. His m̶i̶r̶a̶c̶l̶e̶s̶ works are many. My beloved Hungary faced the worst flood since Noah’s time and Orbán single-handedly stopped the waters. (By comparison, Gyurcsány can’t even stop the flood of words from his mouth! There’ll be no nénis working on his hand, that’s for sure.) I ♥ Viktor Orbán! Hajrá Magyar! Altogether now.… Read more »
Öcsi
Guest

I guess strikethrough text doesn’t work too well. The boxes in my previous post should be strikethrough text.

Tyrker
Guest
The main reason behind OV’s hyperactivity is that he knows how badly the authorities screwed up during the mid-March snowstorm when thousands of motorists were trapped on the M1 motorway and elsewhere. Heartwarmingly, the civilian population showed a remarkable degree of cooperation and inventiveness – people living in the settlements along the motorway would bring food, provide shelter, use their own tractors and other vehicles to rescue their fellow countrymen and foreigners, new facebook groups would form to coordinate the bottom-up civilian effort (even an interactive map was made available where stranded people could indicate their position using their smartphones so that volunteers could go and rescue them) – but the official authorities were seen as doing practically nothing from about 4pm on 14th March (when the traffic stalled on the motorway) until about midday on the 15th, despite the fact that the meteorologists had forecast the snowstorm well in advance. OV evidently wanted to demonstrate that the disaster prevention agency, the police and the army were in control of the situation now (under his leadership of course). This, in and of itself, is hardly surprising or objectionable, although posing as the mastermind behind the flood prevention efforts is clearly… Read more »
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